The Senate on Wednesday asked the Director General, Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), to appear before it ‘unfailingly’ next Wednesday.
The lawmakers also stated that the Customs boss would not be admitted into the chamber if he failed to appear in the uniform of the service showing his rank as the DG.
The lawmakers took turns to condemn the NCS and Ali for defying an order stopping the service from implementing its new policy on vehicle duty.
Ali had last Thursday, in a circular, issued a one-month ultimatum, from Monday, March 13, to Wednesday, April 12, 2017, to all vehicle owners within the country, whose Customs duties had not been fully paid to do so.
The Customs boss had advised all motor dealers and private owners of such vehicles to visit the nearest zonal office of the service to pay the appropriate duties on them.
But the policy was rejected by the upper chamber of the National Assembly, which stated that the NCS had no legal backing to implement such a directive.
Specifically, the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, while moving a motion on the Customs circular at plenary, which gained unanimous support of the lawmakers, on Thursday, said the move was illegal and arbitrary.
He said, “We are all aware that the area of operation specifically designated for this service is principally our borders. And we are aware of the fact that in this situation, we are unable to find the specific provision of the law that the Comptroller of Customs relied upon to issue this circular. I think we have a compelling need to protect the Nigerian public against this arbitrariness.”
But the NCS, on Wednesday, defied the directive of the Senate, insisting that the one-month ultimatum for owners of such vehicles to pay the appropriate duties remained sacrosanct.
The Acting Public Relations Officer of Customs, Mr. Joseph Attah, at a press conference on Wednesday, said the one-month grace period was still in force despite the order of the Senate.
He said that in a bid to reduce the burden of the duty payment on Nigerians, a rebate of 60 per cent had been approved by the NCS for vehicles imported prior to the 2016 fiscal period.
He said, “The payment (period) remains Monday, March 13 to Wednesday, April 12. The points of payments, with the exemption of Lagos and Port Harcourt, will now be the nearest Customs area command. Private vehicle owners who know that duty has not been paid on their vehicles can take advantage of this grace period to do so.
“Therefore, owners of such vehicles or their representatives are expected to go to the nearest points of payment for assessment and payment. It should be noted that the 60 per cent rebate applies only within the grace period.”
But on Thursday, Senator Dino Melaye, raised the matter at the plenary, saying the statement made by the Customs could only be made by a military government ‘where an individual, a parastatal, an institution or an agency of government will confront the powers of the Nigerian Senate.’
The lawmaker pointed out that the government was based on three arms ‘and that the Nigeria Customs cannot function without the National Assembly because they cannot spend or survive without appropriations and oversight’.
He said, “If this Senate, which is one of the most vibrant Senates in the history of this country, makes a resolution and an agency of government will have the temerity, will have the guts, will have the strength to blatantly disregard the entire institution of the Nigerian Senate, it is a very dark day for democracy.”
Melaye continued, “I am a member of the Customs committee and I want to educate some of us today; the position of the Comptroller General of Customs is a rank. As I speak today, we have deputy comptrollers general of Customs; their next promotion, if it comes to be, is comptroller general of Customs. And we have asked this man (Ali) in the committee why is he was not wearing the rank of comptroller general and he said ‘uniform men’ don’t wear uniform twice. I asked him, under which law.
“I educated him by reminding him that he retired as a colonel and that General (Haladu) Hananiya retired as a General.
When he was appointed as the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps; he wore, promptly and daily, the uniform of the corps.
Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, said ‘the activities of the Customs lately had become a source of concern to us all’.
“Then, if that position (CG of Customs) is a rank and you (Ali) are not wearing that rank, it means you are not even proud of the Nigeria Customs,” he added